Catch-up: Jobs and Windows

Travelling yesterday, I caught up on a couple of Tech Weekly podcasts from The Guardian featuring reactions to Steve Jobs’ death, and an earlier feature on the announcements of Windows 8. These podcasts are good value: 20-30 minutes of serious comment bringing together people with real expertise.

For the Steve Jobs special edition, The Guardian brought in not only its tech people but its editors for design, film, and music alongside a Gartner VP who specialises in smartphones. This wove a coherent picture of Jobs’ impact. In design, the point was made that he (or Jonathan Ive, that is) didn’t try to align with the latest design fashions; Jonathan Glancey referred to Apple’s design roots in the Bauhaus movement which is culturally well established (we might say de-bugged) and, to a significant degree now, has become timeless. What’s now Disney Pixar was Jobs’ initiative after he left Apple – and the same perfection of design shows in Pixar’s animation. The coherence of the iTunes/iPod ecosystem turned the threat of downloaded music on its head, making it easy for people to legitimately buy music – and has led to a resurgence of individual songs rather than albums. And, looking forward with Gartner’s Carolina Milanesi, the impact of the iPhone (and iPad) are only just starting to be felt.

Throughout, the speakers developed a picture of Jobs as an holistic, user-centred entrepreneur. The question he asked himself and his designers wasn’t “What can we do with this new tech stuff?” Rather, it was “What will the users like/want/need? Now how do we provide it?” Implementation is secondary, which is why it doesn’t matter that the iPhone and iPad aren’t built on MacOS. The iPad doesn’t feel wildly different from the Mac – although it is, just as OS X is different from Classic. The same understanding informs the design.

Then, backtracking a few editions, there was a review of early information on Windows 8. I was left, there, with quite the opposite feel. The reviewers seemed to be saying that Microsoft is working very hard to build a common code base that will service different platforms: from standard PCs to tablets to smartphones. But the resulting compromises will affect the user experience on all of them. For example: in an OS created for the tablet’s swipe-screen paradigm, conventional mouse operation is less well supported. Somehow the feel was exactly the opposite of what I’d been hearing about the way Steve Jobs worked. The conclusion seemed to be that Windows 8 will either be a miracle, if they pull it off, or a car crash. We’ll see; the developer beta is available.

This week produced favourite short from the Guardian letters page. “Blackberry jam helps Apple turnover” … The earlier podcast had some comments on RiM and the future of the BlackBerry service and other communication channels. BlackBerry Messaging (BBM) scores with Generation Y through its realtime presence; as we all know, SMS text messages can get delayed. Email in that generation is dead: JP Rangaswami quoted his daughter as saying, of one of her friends, “His phone’s dead. You’ll have to inbox him on Facebook”. Yet RiM is having trouble shifting both older models still in the channel, and newer ones which they can’t abandon because they are leading in the new OS. Step forward both Apple with the iPhone, which knows its market, and the multitude of Android models.

• Steve Jobs special, The Guardian Tech Weekly podcast, 6 Oct 2011
• Windows 8, bad news for Rim, JP Rangaswami, The Guardian Tech Weekly podcast,20 Sep 2011
• Carolina Milanesi, Gartner blog (though the most recent post is February 2011)
• Previewing Windows 8, Microsoft

Hype Cycle thoughts

Gartner’s Hype Cycle is one of the most widely recognised technology assessment tools. Right now, in the run-up to Gartner’s Symposium season, there’s activity around this so a review is timely.

Before I forget: well worth watching the Gartner website while Symposium progresses round the world, because some keynotes tend to be webcast for open access. Symposium was in Orlando last week, and comes to Europe next month (Barcelona, 7-10 Nov, since the Cannes facility isn’t available this year).

First off, of course, the Hype Cycle concept has exploded in the past few years. It has, though, gone through its own hype cycle and is now, I suggest, on its Plateau of Productivity. Not least because Gartner, under Jackie Fenn’s tutelage, have surrounded it with other related tools and a much better published understanding of how it should be used. It’s not an easy guide to where to invest (or not); it’s more a guide to what the parameters are for an investment decision as technologies move through what is, in fact, a version of an economist’s standard adoption cycle.

Right now, there’s a short video from Jackie on Gartner’s home page outlining what the hype cycle is and how it’s intended to be used (C S Lewis’s “corkscrew or cathedral” test). And there are some overview reports on Gartner’s library which, if you’re registered as a free user, you can access in full. These list all the current Hype Cycle reports – though these, of course, are not on open access.

Gartner added their “Market Clock” some while ago, and now have released a tool called the Priority Matrix which partitions emerging technologies according to their potential benefit (from “low” to “transformational”) and (estimated) time to mainstream adoption. There’s a note on its use in the Hype Cycle 2011 review. I think what’s missing, here and elsewhere – though I’m not sure how you’d bring it in to the tool – is how to factor in an organisation’s risk appetite and strategy. Do you want to be transformed? Can you afford not to be?

Gartner’s list of around 90 current Hype Cycles covers Technology and Appplication; Information and IT Services; and vertical Industry sectors. Clients can also make use of the data through the My Hype Cycle toolkit, which can filter data for a specified subset of the 1800 technologies covered by the reports and create a tailored Hype Cycle graphic for use in internal strategy discussions.

My own guide to using the Hype Cycle is embodied in this comment I added to some verses posted on the Mastering the Hype Cycle blog two and a half years ago. The blog, incidentally, has emerged from a dormant period and is publishing again.

The strategists won’t allow hype to dictate:
It’s a servant to them, not a master.
They let it inform, and they factor the risk
‘Twixt competitive edge and disaster.

Or they hold for a while, till it’s over the peak –
Or even invest in the trough,
When the prices are low, and there’s knowledge around
To ensure the return is enough.

Hype can be a snare: but provides a great guide
If your buyer’s informed and is practical,
And knows when investment is for the long haul
Or when it’s short term, and is tactical.

• Hype Cycles 2011, Gartner website section, with links to these downloadable documents:
•• Gartner’s Hype Cycle Special Report for 2011, 2 Aug 2011
•• Understanding Hype Cycles, 19 Jul 2011
•• Toolkit: My Hype Cycle, 2011, 12 Sep 2011
• Gartner IT Market Clock website section, and see also:
•• Understanding Gartner’s IT Market Clocks, 2011, 8 Sep 2011
• Technology adoption lifecycle, Wikipedia
The Hype Cycle as Art part 2 – poetry, Mastering the Hype Cycle, 27 Mar 2009 (see comment)
Gartner Symposium

A few thoughts for Open Source

I’m moderating a webcast on Open Source this week. In preparation, a couple of interesting links.

What’s important to remember, of course, is that Open Source Software (OSS) means different things in different contexts. At one level there’s still a significant debate about OS, centring around three things:

  • interoperability: not just, for example, how well Open Office documents interchange with Microsoft Office users, but whether the applications that work with MS Office will also work with Open Office or other OSS offerings
  • maintainability: there’s a reluctance to rely on the OSS community maintenance model when what you’re paying a supplier for is support for what’s there, not the software itself
  • compliance: in applications where security or other forms of compliance are crucial, whether OSS can meet the audit and validation requirements

It seems to me that these debates often focus around Open Office (and its relations, like Star Office or the latest versions of SmartSuite). But there are many areas where OSS is a de facto standard. Linux, of course, is the prime example at the platform level. Among servers, many websites – enterprise internal as well as outward-facing – use Tomcat or Apache. In my own work I use Smalltalk (open sourced from Cincom) for development; I use Audacity for voice recording, for podcasts; my web browser of choice is Firefox; and so on. And I do use Open Office on the few occasions I need to process Office documents on Windows although I use the Microsoft free readers, and it’s Microsoft on my main Mac platform. I don’t use an OSS mail reader or address book, but I know plenty of people do.

Mark Driver of Gartner believes that “The presence of open source is inevitable within mainstream mission-critical IT portfolios.”

So the debate about OSS needs to focus on what, where, and why. And IDC recently posted a note in its Smart Government blog highlighting a debate in UK local government, in Bristol, which is helping to clarify some of the issues for Office software. There’ve been some high profile cases elsewhere: Mitt Romney’s Massachussetts, for example, though I understand the Commonwealth has stepped back from this initiative.

But Bristol’s consideration is publicly minuted, and that makes it interesting as they’ve obtained input on security and compliance from the Cabinet Office and been given a moderate nod to proceed. As IDC point out, there’s potential impact on costs and licensing models for commercial off-the-shelf software as well as for the direct use of OSS; Microsoft Office for small purchasers is vastly cheaper than it was a while ago, for example. It’s worth reading the Bristol paper.

And, of course, with an Open Source community there’s the chance to get involved and help shape the direction of the development. Most commercial or government enterprises won’t want to commit those resources, I guess. But the opportunity is there.

There are a few analyst links included below: it’s worth putting “open source” into the InformationSpan Gartner blog search (see the Analyst Blogs index) for a range of ongoing postings. Mark Driver of Gartner believes that “The presence of open source is inevitable within mainstream mission-critical IT portfolios.”

• Little by little Open Source increases its government penetration, IDC Smart Government, 11 Oct 2011
Open Source Leadership, Notes of meeting at Bristol City Council, 7 Oct 2011
New Research: A CIO’s Perspective On Open Source, Mark Driver, Gartner, 31 Jan 2011

Beyond gmail: Google apps event with BCS

I’m at a BCS North London event at Google’s London office, listening to presenters from the AppsBroker consultancy extend my understanding of how Google Apps work. We’ve passed through the background stuff about using cloud apps in general and now getting to the meat. If you’ve wondered, like me, what Google APIs can really do, then this is an as-it-goes posting; watch the space! Any errors in understanding or interpretation are mine, of course.

How to write a Google-extended app …

1 – Appscript; 2 – Gadget APIs; s – Data APIs

1: Appscript = Javascript extended. Primarily for spreadsheets plus elements such as contacts, calendar, finance, sites, docs list, maps (some of these are in Labs).

Just seeing the down side of everything being online rather than on the device; the demo’s gone down through being unconnected. Notwithstanding that I’m doing this on Google’s guest network,, the demo doc is, it appears, “offline”. Embarrassing, even when the demo’s working on a ChromeBook, which admittedly does reboot nice and quickly!

When it’s come back, we get a quick view of the script code inserted into a Spreadsheet to quickly create a form with follow-on technology such as mail-outs based on the respondent’s input, or sending update notifications when an online document is changed.

2: Data APIs, based on REST rather than SOAP (HTML based, IIRC, but can use other languages eg. Java/script .NET, …). Can for example use Data APIs to push data into a shared spreadsheet in real time from multiple users/locations/sources, but maintaining one version of truth.

3: Gadget APIs: simple HTML/Javascript to extend gadgets. Example shown: a smart reschedule for a shared meeting. Looks a lot like the calendaring that Lotus Notes has done for years!

Google App Engine and Cloud Storage will have a >99.9% SLA from November. Cloud SQL (see Google Blog last week) is under beta.

— adding to the interest level, we just had a fire evacuation and a quick tour of Eccleston Square with the fire marshals. Now trickling back – at least, most of us. I think some people have decided to duck out.

In the pipeline: Google Big Query: online dataset analysis – data mining/BI application. And something called the Google Periodic Table (there’s an extra column in the Transition Metal section …) which visualises the family of applications and extensions. Prediction, for example, can look at web traffic and draw interesting conclusions. Lots of searches on “sore throat” might signal the start of a flu epidemic.

Abbreviated in response to the disruption: Dalim, chair of the Branch, talking about governance. What changes with the cloud? Some of the controls e.g. for change management; assurance from third parties, and provider management; identity and access management (d0 you still have super users?) and monitoring; evolving technology, complexity and challenges. Dalim offers an app assurance checklist [see BCS NLB website in due course].

Q&A … references to Google’s global infrastructure capability; e.g. guaranteeing at least four copies of data on different continents (that is, replication like Lotus Notes used to do). Regarding data protection issues – Google can’t at present commit to (for example) segregating data into the EU though this is being worked on. The offering currently may not be appropriate for heavily regulated in-country enterprises e.g. some areas of government, finance. Google, though, takes the approach that they are not data owners; they are data holders, and would pass access requests to the data owners. And there are data online about which countries request legal discovery, how often, and when. From the security point of view, just a glimpse of the multiple levels of protection applied to data.

Thinking about a portfolio of services: Google Apps will integrate both on-premise (e.g. with AD) and other cloud services (e.g. a strategic partnership with And there’s a commitment to back data out if a service relationship is terminated. Cloud, to Google, is short term contractable (e.g. 12 month; or a little as 1 month) – no lock-in.

• Google Apps (follow the links)
• Google App Engine, Cloud Storage and Prediction API are open for business, Official Google Blog, 11 Oct 2011
• BCS North London Branch: Past Events 2011 (you may have to scroll for this event; presentations are not yet posted but are expected)
• AppsBroker consultancy

Brian Arthur on the Second Economy

In my inbox today was a pointer to an article in McKinsey Quarterly by Brian Arthur, economist and technology thinker. In brief, he explores the idea that a “second economy” is developing apace “underneath” the visible one. He shows how IT has not only taken over doing individual mundane tasks: it is now handling the many connections through which information is created from data, and making new connections as needed.

Well, as IT people, we know that’s happening. But the use cases are worth reading through because of the inferences being drawn. This connectivity, says Arthur, is already to a large extent self-configuring, autonomous (that is, “human beings may design it but are not directly involved in running it”) and self-repairing. If the Industrial Revolution represents the economy as growing muscular power, the IT revolution represents it as growing neural capability. He carefully doesn’t call it “intelligence”, but it has the capability to react as, say, a bacterium can sense and swim towards a source of nutrition.

Two quotes caught my particular attention, for those of us concerned with enterprise IT.

“In any deep transformation, industries do not so much adopt the new body of technology as encounter it”. Think about what’s happening with consumerisation, with cloud, with the iPad (as I wrote earlier today in tribute to Steve Jobs).

Economic growth in the past has always worked through the creation of jobs (though it has rendered old ones redundant and created new ones). This may not hold in future; the jobs that most of us professionals prize are disappearing too. So “the main challenge of the economy is shifting from producing prosperity to distributing prosperity“. I’d guess the Spirit Level researchers would have something to say about that, since it’s clear that more equal societies are better not just for those at the bottom of the heap but for those at the top too. And that, too, implies redistribution.

Not a tech posting, this; but professionals, in any field, need to be stimulated to think about the consequences of what we do for those among whom we exist. Read it; it’s worth it.

• The Second Economy, W. Brian Arthur, McKinsey Quarterly, Oct 2011 [sign-up may be required]
• W Brian Arthur: External Professor, Santa Fe Institute, and Visiting Researcher, Intelligent Systems Lab, PARC
• You might want to look for a paper or digital copy of Arthur’s The Nature of Technology (ISBN: 9781416544050)
• The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone

A question from Gideon Gartner

Researching something completely other, I came across a six-month-old post from Gideon Gartner which, in turn, refers to a post I can’t find from Tony Greenberg. So this is third hand, but here is an excerpt from what Gideon quotes:

We buy too much from big companies that  lock us in by hiding detail and complexity. Then we happily reward dubious value by never shopping around even as the rift between market and BigCo’s rates grow.

RFP’s are what most [many?] companies use to show how little they know about what they really need and who to buy it from. Vendors use any little bit of weasel room to sell you their value proposition.

We think that we can’t change our contract mid-term even when business need and market conditions change. So we endure the 3 or 5 or even 10 years  when we could have used that same business need  to realign even the most onerous deals real time.  And no contract is non-negotiable even when it’s closed.  In reality, you never get what you deserve – it’s always what you negotiate. Razor sharp guardrails and multi-vendor relationships are where success lies.

All you need is the upper right quadrant? 9 times out of 10, if you pick the generic “best” recommendation, it won’t be the right fit.  Sure, it’s better than the 99% chance of screwing up if selecting randomly, but no quadrant will replace an analysis of optimal fit.

Gideon then asks if this applies to what I call the Insight Services sector. Here’s an expanded version of my response which as I write is waiting his moderation.

Gideon – I only just found this post, but sure it applies to insight services and (as in so many areas) particularly to the market leader. IT strategists don’t always understand how to use these services and the tools that they offer.

For example: there are two global market leaders in this space. One – Gartner – has taken a strong direction towards identifying, supporting and working with key individuals in an IT organisation. The other – Forrester Research – is still up for providing services which can be opened up to most or all of IT staff.

Then there are other next-tier providers such as Ovum Butler who may be more limited in the markets they support, but offer good expertise within those areas at a lower price. And there are specialists: some of them such as Mike Rasmussen’s Corporate Integrity or Charlene Li’s Altimeter Group spin-offs from the majors; others like IDC covering a specific range of market sectors. There are different delivery models, All in all, over 400 potential providers.

Just as in any other space, a proper needs analysis is a pre-requisite to the procurement of an appropriate portfolio of services. Who are the potential users for the service, what are their needs, what will encourage them to actually use it? What’s the value you expect and how will you demonstrate that you’re achieving it?

It isn’t just about information content and price. Are you “just” buying content, are you aiming to develop a strategic partnership with your insight provider, or are you buying in panic mode because something’s gone wrong in your estate? Will your users identify and engage with specific analysts? Will you be able to share strategic thinking so as to get advice before your decisions are shaped, rather than just to confirm (you hope) a decision that’s already made? What are the additional values in the relationship, such as events, analyst interactions, and so on? Can you shape their research directions at the same time as they influence your strategic thinking? Different providers respond in different ways to these drivers.

I’m not entirely in agreement about multi-vendor strategies in this space. Conflicting advice from different insight providers in the same space can lead to problems. But it’s a useful strategy in the evolution of your portfolio, and likely you will use different providers to meet different needs.

And finally, of course, you use G***r or F***r (or someone else) to advise you on IT. But who advises you on buying these insight services, which influence the whole IT strategy and budget? Analyst Relations aims to develop skills among those who influence the providers on behalf of IT vendors. But there’s almost nothing to develop informed buyers and users of insight services.

Naturally I wouldn’t be posting this if I didn’t believe that InformationSpan fills that gap. We have the market model, the needs analysis framework, and the database of potential providers.

I need to remind people that Gideon Gartner no longer has any direct connection with the insight firm which he founded and which still carries his name.

• Sharpening Instincts: Review of an IT post, Gideon Gartner, 1 Mar 2011
• Tony Greenberg (maybe you can find the original post; if so please let me know!)
InformationSpan; click “Enterprise IT”